What’s So Special About Christian Ponder?

When Roger Goodell stepped to the podium and announced the Vikings had selected Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, my jaw dropped, my eyes glazed over - I was in complete shock.

I had seen Ponder play on ESPN a handful of times at Florida St and he appeared to be a good college quarterback, someone who would probably be a 3rd or 4th round draft pick, make a decent living in the NFL as a back-up signal caller with a few starts sprinkled in and hang around the league for about a decade if he could stay healthy.

While battling shoulder and elbow problems, Ponder completed 61.8% of his passes for 6,872 yards with 49 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in 3-plus seasons in Tallahassee. Solid numbers, but not special. Ponder had average NFL size (6-2, 229 lbs), average arm strength, decent mobility (although that might be a product of his youth) and a few question marks in the durability department. He did appear to be pretty intelligent and not just in the racially-coded un-athletic, white guy kind of way.

Like I said, solid, nothing special. Never, ever did I get any inkling this guy would be pegged as a franchise guy for an NFL team, especially not for my beloved Vikings.

Yet, here we are, a year and a half later, and that’s the line we are being sold. The Vikings however, didn’t draft Christian Ponder because they had charted his college career and determined he was their future. They didn’t draft him because he was the best player available at the No. 12 slot. They didn’t draft him because they had a plan. They drafted him because there was no plan.

Every loyal Vikings fan knows that from when Tarvaris Jackson was selected in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft until age finally caught up with Brett Favre in 2010, the franchise had done nothing to ensure the long term viability of the organization’s most important position. From 2006-08, the notoriously stubborn Brad Childress was determined to make Jackson a quality NFL QB. Heading into the 2009 season that still appeared to be the plan. Career back-up Sage Rosenfels was brought in to “compete” with Jackson. It was pretty clear to most observers what the outcome of that competition would be.

Then suddenly Favre became available. Chilly loved Favre and did everything he could to bring him to Minnesota. It was the right move at the time. While the 2009 season ended in disappointment, it was a success. For the first time in a decade the Vikings were legitimate Super Bow contenders. It was their behavior during the 2010 draft however, that was almost criminally irresponsible.

Knowing Favre, now going on 41, was seriously considering retirement and having basically given up on Jackson, the franchise did nothing to address their long term QB health. Sure, Joe Webb was taken in the 6th round, but Tom Brady aside, franchise QBs are not found with the 199th pick. Besides, the initial plan was to convert Webb to wide receiver.

We all know what happened in 2010, the Vikes bribed Favre into coming back, he was ineffective and ultimately injured, Childress was fired, a bunch of other completely ridiculous things happened and the Vikings finished 6-10.

The organization went into the 2011 draft absolutely having to take a quarterback. At that moment, they literally had nobody but Webb on their roster. The problem was that that they were picking 12th and the three quarterbacks who were generally regarded as first round material - Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert - went 1st, 8th and 10th. So, despite having other glaring needs, the Vikings passed on the best players on the board like DT Nick Fairley and CB Prince Amukamara and reached for Ponder. Rick Spielman reportedly suffered a separated shoulder during the process.

That’s how a player who would have been a nice value pick in the 3rd round became the Minnesota Vikings franchise QB. The move was universally applauded…..in Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit.

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